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Front & Center, A Look At Five Ballerinas From The Region

Ballet is considered by many a stunning art of dance with a rich history dating way back to the Italian Renaissance. From there, it took off in other European countries such as France and Russia, and in our contemporary times, its popularity continues to grow across the globe, including this region. Until recently, Arab countries have been best known for their traditional dances but in the midst of all this, ballet managed to find its way to stages and scenes across the region. We are taking a look at five, iconic, Arab ballerinas, past and present, who helped to bring this dance to the limelight regionally.

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1. Samira AlKhamis

Introduced to the world of dance at the age of 4, Samira AlKhamis is best known as the "Saudi ballerina." She grew up in a family where each sibling learned how to dance, starting from the eldest, but was the only one in her family to make it a career. Following her early passion, she would go on to establish Pulse Personal Training, a dance studio, located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. AlKhamis has had the opportunity to perform numerous times throughout her career, her favorite being at Riyadh Season where she danced with a horse in front of thousands of people.

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2. Alia Al Neyadi

Alia Al Neyadi is the UAE’s first ballerina. Growing up with her mother Svetlana Al Neyadi, who herself ran a ballet school, was key to exposing her to the world of dance. She got her start in ballet at the age of 15 and, with the backing of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, represented the UAE at an international arts festival in Crimea. She would go on to perform in other countries in Europe and the United States. Although she may not be a full-time ballerina, Al Neyadai currently works to aspire young dancers in the UAE, serving as project lead of performing arts in the country's Department of Culture and Tourism.

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3. Magda Saleh

Magda Saleh can be considered to be one of Egypt's first ballerinas who had their start at Cairo's Higher Institute of Ballet, a joint venture with the Soviet Union. In fact, Saleh would become one of five students to be invited to further their ballet training in Moscow in 1963. In 1966, Saleh would return to Egypt to perform in Boris Asafiev's Fountain of Bakhchisarai, an event hosted by the Cairo Ballet Company. Later on in her career, Saleh moved to the United States where she learned modern and Egyptian dances, and earned a master’s degree from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and a PhD from New York University (NYU).

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4. Engy El Shazly

Engy El Shazly is a fellow Egyptian ballerina, but known as the first to dance while wearing a hijab. She got her first start as a ballerina by learning the art of the dance at the age of 27, and soon found herself taking it up full time. She underwent training to become a certified ballet teacher and currently works as assistant teacher to the First Dancer of Cairo Opera House. In addition, El Shazly has collaborated with brands such as the Outnet, which launched the "Shoe Movement" campaign in 2018, with El Shazly showcasing a pair of Dolce & Gabbana sandals during her performances.

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5. Rima Baransi

Rima Baransi is a Palestinian dancer, choreographer, and teacher from Jerusalem. She got her start at the age of eight with support of her parents, and would go on to attend Charles E. Smith Jerusalem High School for the Arts and Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance in 2012, and DanceWorks in Germany. Baransi currently resides in Italy where she became an online sensation in 2018, for example, with her street performance, dancing to a violin rendering of "Comptine d’un autre été: L’Après-Midi" by Yann Tiersen. In 2020, she was considered for BBC Arabic's 100 Women Season.

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